Generative Design in Architecture: From Mathematical Optimization to Grammatical Customization

P. Nourian, Shervin Azadi, Robin Oval

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterAcademicpeer-review


This chapter provides a methodological overview of generative design in architecture, especially highlighting the commonalities between three separate lineages of generative approaches in architectural design, namely the mathematical optimization methods for topology optimization and shape optimization, generative grammars (shape grammars and graph grammars), and [agent-based] design games. A comprehensive definition of generative design is provided as an umbrella term referring to the mathematical, grammatical, or gamified methodologies for systematic synthesis, i.e. derivation, itemization, or exploration of configurations. Among other points, it is shown that generative design methods are not necessarily meant to automate design but rather provide structured mechanisms to facilitate participatory design or creative mass customization. Effectively, the chapter provides the theoretical minimum for understanding generative design as a paradigm in computational design; demystifies the term generative design as a technological hype; shows a precis of the history of the generative approaches in architectural design; provides a minimalist methodological framework summarising lessons from the three lineages of generative design; and deepens the technological discourse on generative design methods by reflecting on the topological constructs and techniques required for devising generative systems or design machines, including those equipped with Artificial Intelligence. Moreover, the notions of discrete design and design for discrete assembly are discussed as precursors to the core concept of design as decision-making in generative design, thus hinting to avenues of future research in manufacturing-informed combinatorial mass customization and discrete architecture in tandem with generative design methods.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationComputational Design and Digital Manufacturing
EditorsP. Kyratsis, A. Manavis, J. Paulo Davim
Number of pages43
ISBN (Print)9783031211669, 9783031211676
Publication statusPublished - 2023
Externally publishedYes

Publication series

NameManagement and Industrial Engineering
ISSN (Print)2365-0532
ISSN (Electronic)2365-0540


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